The Clarion T-shirt: cold, cruel critiques

In 1996, when I was at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop, each class traditionally made a commemorative T-shirt. (This may still be the case. I hope so.)

Ours featured a design on the front evoking a video game. The boy manikin in the illustration had certain sentimental significance.

The back, in keeping with tradition, listed remarks taken out of context from critiques. Critiquing stories was a main activity at the workshop, and we tried to be kind and helpful, but context is everything. One of these remarks was mine, by the way, and I’m not going to own up to it. One of them was about a story I wrote, and it was actually good advice.

• I would really like to say something nice about your story.

• You should use a lighter shade of foreshadowing.

• The story was dances with wolves, bears, deer, and thunderclouds.

• Spirals down into madness and incompetence in a lighthearted sort of way.

• This story is about Emily Dickinson’s pivotal role in the space program.

• What do we want? THE PRESENT! When do we want it? NOW!

• You have everything you need; it all just needs to be changed.

• I also like gratuitous incineration.

• This story is Waiting for Godot, but without all the action.

• I’m not sure that this story needs to have exactly what you want to say in there.

• What we need are some Zombie rules.

GameOverCloseup.jpg• This story is so well-written I bet you’ve written something I’d like.

— Sue Burke

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